Local View: Pay for state’s public school teachers has increased

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Executives at Washington’s public teachers union (the WEA) announced recently that gaining access to greater pay increases was their primary lobbying goal for 2014 — not raising student test scores, closing the achievement gap, or improving low graduation rates.

To support their message in Olympia, union executives say they have not received a state-funded cost-of-living-adjustment, or COLA, for six years. Some proponents argue this means teachers have either not received a pay increase or have received a cut, because pay has not gone up as much as they think it should have. By citing only one type of pay increase, though, the union gives the impression that teachers haven’t received any pay increases.

The good news is that teachers also receive compensation from local school districts, and regular, annual pay increases are built into the state’s compensation system. For example, since 2006 average teacher pay has increased by about $9,000, or more than 16 percent, even as many working families have lost jobs or experienced reduced hours.

Total average teacher pay, from state and local sources, is now almost $65,000 a year, plus benefits. A typical benefits package includes health coverage, dental, vision, life insurance, long-term disability, up to 12 days of sick leave, cash for unused leave and a generous public pension. In all, benefits add an average of $19,200 a year in compensation. Also, unions receive public funds to pay the salaries and benefits of their executives, even though labor unions are private entities.

People in Washington want schoolteachers to be well-paid, and they are generous in paying taxes to provide money for all school district employees (the majority of school employees are not teachers). When union executives argue that teachers are chronically underpaid they appear ungrateful, as if they do not recognize the real sacrifices working people make every day to fund our public schools.

Parents are deeply concerned that their children receive a high-quality public education, and we all want good teachers to be well-paid. Most people cheerfully provide tax money for school budgets, salaries and benefits. The state budget, for example, adds $1.6 billion in new education spending in 2013-15.

As the question of COLAs, pay increases and benefits are debated, policymakers and the broader public need an accurate view of all sources of teacher pay, rather than focusing on only one form of pay provided by the state. Fortunately, the numbers show teacher pay has steadily increased, even though one kind of pay, the COLA, has not gone up recently.

Liv Finne is Director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center. Website: www.washingtonpolicy.org